From Books

Books 2018: #21 – #30


While I am still not caught up with my book reports assignment for 2018, I am prepared to offer up my penultimate report today, not yet a week into 2019. As ever, the garish color-coded indicators of placements on my  Great Novels ,  Great Sci-fi and Fantasy Novels  and  Great Crime Novels  lists are expressly designed to enhance your blog-reading experience. (Links to these celebrated lists are found at the bottom of this page.)

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  • Confessions of a Crap ArtistPhilip K DickConfessions of a Crap Artist (1959/1975)
       One of the author’s half dozen or so non-sci/fi novels and, though not for 15 years after he wrote it, the only one published during his lifetime. He longed to make it as a “serious” mainstream writer, but it didn’t happen. At least not in the way he wanted.
     
    This is a book PKD obsessives can enjoy for its oddly jumbled-up depiction of his life in Port Reyes Station (Marin County, California) with his second wife Anne Dick.[1] It is not a bad novel. It is just a bit off of the mainstream rails, and likely puzzling to the point of incoherence to readers unfamiliar with his biography.

  • EventideKent HarufEventide (2004)
       This is the second novel in a trilogy Haruf set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. I really enjoyed Plainsong, the first, and I liked this one too, though not unreservedly. It features most of the characters introduced in the earlier book, and this is a good thing. It suffers a bit under the weight of its multiple plot lines, some of which lead nowhere. I assume book three, Benediction, brings some closure. We’ll see. Haruf’s style is sometimes compared to Wallace Stegner’s, which is high praise in my book.

  • Bird SenseTim BirkheadBird Sense (2012)
       A remarkable survey of what we[2] know about how birds experience the world. Birkhead delves into research (including his own) on birds’ senses of sight, taste, touch, smell, and direction. He is insightful and fascinating. Birders should read this book now, before spring migration. Non-birders should read it twice (before and after buying binoculars and a copy of Sibley’s Guide to Birds).

  • Shakespeare: Soul of the AgeJonathan BateShakespeare: Soul of the Age (2009)
       This is probably the tenth full-length biography of Shakespeare I’ve read.[3] Not the best. Not the worst. Bate’s subtitle is “A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare.” I suppose he’s as qualified as anyone to speculate on the subject of Shakespeare’s mind, but I didn’t learn anything new–at least not anything that stuck.

  • I, RobotIsaac AsimovI, Robot (1950)
       Like Arthur C Clarke’s The Martian Chronicles, this is a novel pieced together from short stories published in sci-fi magazines. I did not love Clarke’s book, but Asimov’s I did. Both are at least 50 years past a “read by” date, but Asimov’s has aged better.

  • The Tiger in the Smoke 13   Margery AllinghamThe Tiger in the Smoke (1952)
       “The Smoke” is an old nickname for London; “Tiger” is a descriptive moniker for the violent and evil bad guy in this novel. If Conan Doyle’s Dr Moriarty is the preeminent genius of the fictional criminal class, this character is the the preeminent physical brute of same. The mystery is solved by Allingham’s sleuth Albert Campion (the name is a pseudonym). “Campion” is given to be a member of the British royal family, and may originally have been created by the author as a parody of Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey. If so, he outgrew the jest and was featured in 20 well-regarded crime novels. This one, at least, is a gem.

  • Master and ManLeo TolstoyMaster and Man (1895)
       As a longish short story, this probably doesn’t quite belong here. But it’s one of my favorite works by one of my favorite authors. In a way, it’s a condensed and more convincing relation to the more ham-handed Resurrection. It may be considered, along with The Death of Ivan Ilyich, as one of Tolstoy’s late moral and spiritual masterpieces of fiction. It is considered so by me, at least.

  • The Forever War 3   Joe HaldemanThe Forever War (1976)
       A sci-fi novel with metaphorical references to the Vietnam War and as an anti-war reaction to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers? Yes. It also features almost-believable physics: collapsestars as black holes, creating wormhole-like faster-than-speed-of-light travel and the attendant time-dialation complications inherent in that. Geeky stuff. But also a love story. An impressive novel, and an interesting measure of the advances in the genre (and science) a quarter century after the publication of Clarke’s Martian Cronicles and Asimov’s I, Robot.

  • The Abacus and the CrossNancy Marie BrownThe Abacus and the Cross (2010)
       The story of Pope Sylvester II (born Gerbert of Aurillac), whose short reign bridged the first and second millennia (999-1003 C.E.). He is known as the “scientist pope” today, but in his time he was known by his many enemies as a dabbler in witchcraft and the dark arts. Among other suspicious acts and interests (star gazing, medicine), he introduced to Christendom (Western Europe) the abacus used by Islamic mathematicians and merchants. If more of his contemporaries were like-minded, the European Dark Ages might have been merely dusky. This biography is a fascinating read.

  • The Day of the Jackal 42   Frederick ForsythThe Day of the Jackal (1971)
       A thriller in the vein of John le Carre’s spy novels (and, probably, Tom Clancy’s, though I haven’t read him). Like le Carre, Forsyth is a former British spy. He is also a former journalist. This novel deftly mixes fact and fiction, and “feels” impressively authentic. It’s a page-turner!



Notes

  1. Find my bloviation on the subject of Anne Dick’s biography of PKD near the bottom of this page. [^]
  2. By “we” I mean scientists and ornithologists and those of us curious enough to read them. [^]
  3. Okay, I’ve counted. The number, including heretical “biographies” written by Oxfordian polemicists (they may not be entirely wrong), is 19! This does not count works of literary criticism. [^]